Archived project

Monitoring contaminants in Southeast Alaska national parks

Goal: Create a meaningful long-term protocol for monitoring atmospheric, freshwater, and marine contaminants in a relatively pristine landscape with unique regional drivers of contaminants.

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Project log

Christopher J. Sergeant
added 2 research items
The purpose of this report is to document the standards used by the National Park Service (NPS) Southeast Alaska Network (SEAN) for activities related to the collection, processing, storage, analysis, and publication of monitoring data for environmental contaminants as described in the Environmental contaminants monitoring protocol for the National Park Service, Southeast Alaska Inventory and Monitoring Network: Version EC-2018.1 (Sergeant et al. 2018). The policies and procedures documented in this quality assurance plan complement the quality assurance methods for other monitoring activities conducted by the SEAN. The plan also serves as a guide for all SEAN personnel who are involved in protocol/program activities and as a resource for identifying memoranda, publications, and other literature that describe associated techniques and requirements in more detail and as a resource for end-users of program data.
Airborne, freshwater, and marine contaminants were designated as priority long-term monitoring programs (vital signs) for the Southeast Alaska Inventory and Monitoring Network (SEAN). Here, we integrate these three vital signs into one environmental contaminants monitoring program in order to increase data collection and reporting efficiency for tightly connected ecosystem components that are exposed to a common suite of pollutants. This document describes the context and justification for contaminants sampling, describes monitoring program methodology, and prescribes staff roles and data management procedures. The standard operating procedures (SOPs) referenced throughout this protocol narrative contain detailed instructions for all aspects of field sampling, lab routines, data collection, storage, analysis, and reporting. In many cases, these SOPs were already developed by existing and widely accepted contaminants monitoring programs. The goal of the environmental contaminants monitoring program is to monitor a suite of priority pollutant or contaminant threats to the parks of Southeast Alaska. This will be accomplished by implementing two primary priorities. First, this protocol will produce a long-term surveillance record of priority airborne, freshwater, and marine pollutants or contaminants in sentinel species at select sites in SEAN parks to enable comparisons with future conditions. Second, the protocol establishes a means to compare pollutant and contaminant concentrations against state, federal, or other relevant criteria for human and ecological health, as a means of evaluating the potential for impairment of NPS resources. Three specific program objectives are: 1) Monitor lichen tissue concentrations for nitrogen, sulfur, and 25 additional elements in conformance with protocols developed for the Tongass National Forest 2) Monitor total mercury in riverine Dolly Varden tissue using existing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protocols 3) Monitor a broad suite of metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in bay mussels, in conformance with national protocols developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Mussel Watch Program. Starting in 2018, sampling for each objective will occur every five years at 19 sites defined within the protocol (6 airborne, 6 freshwater, and 7 marine). At a minimum, data and report products generated by this program will be publicly available on the SEAN website. These products will inform park staff, managers, and outside parties of the status of contaminants in biological samples collected in Southeast Alaska national parks. If we observe contaminant levels of concern during the course of monitoring, SEAN staff will consult with network parks to determine what extended reporting is necessary (e.g., immediate visitor advisory, report to external agencies, peer-reviewed scientific article, or other communication medium).
Christopher J. Sergeant
added a research item
In this article, I describe some recent salmon research in Southeast Alaska and touch on future issues of concern in the region’s three national parks: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and Sitka National Historical Park.
Christopher J. Sergeant
added an update
Our complete monitoring protocol package is now undergoing the NPS peer review process.
 
Christopher J. Sergeant
added an update
A complete monitoring protocol draft is scheduled for completion in April 2017 and will eventually be published in the National Park Service's Natural Resource Report series pending a final review.
 
Christopher J. Sergeant
added 2 research items
Assimilation of mercury (Hg) into food webs is directly influenced by ecological factors such as local habitat characteristics, species feeding behavior, and movement patterns. Total Hg concentrations ([THg]) in biota from Subarctic latitudes are driven both by broad spatial processes such as long-range atmospheric transport and more local influences such as biovectors and geology. Thus, even relatively pristine protected lands such as national parks are experiencing Hg accumulation. We analyzed [THg] and stable isotopes of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) in 104 Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) collected from two rivers in southeastern Alaska, upstream and downstream of apparent anadromous migration barriers in watersheds with and without glacial coverage. To assess the potential magnitude of marine-derived THg returning to freshwater, we analyzed [THg] in ten adult pink salmon from each study system. There were no differences in Dolly Varden mean [THg] between sites after the data were standardized for fork length, but unadjusted [THg] varied relative to fish size and δ15N values. While previous studies generally show that [THg] increases with higher δ15N values, we found that Dolly Varden below migration barriers and foraging on salmon eggs had the highest δ15N values among all sampled individuals, but the lowest [THg]. Dolly Varden residing below anadromous barriers had δ13C values consistent with marine influence. Since salmon eggs typically have low [Hg], our results suggest that abundant salmon populations and the dietary subsidy they provide may reduce the annual exposure to [Hg] in egg-eating stream fishes such as Dolly Varden. In addition to identifying a suitable species for freshwater Hg monitoring in southeastern Alaska, our study more broadly implies that river characteristics, location within a river, fish size, and feeding ecology are important factors influencing Hg accumulation.
Christopher J. Sergeant
added a project goal
Create a meaningful long-term protocol for monitoring atmospheric, freshwater, and marine contaminants in a relatively pristine landscape with unique regional drivers of contaminants.
 
Christopher J. Sergeant
added 2 research items
Compared to the contiguous United States, Alaska presents unique challenges for assessing pollution in our nation’s protected lands. For example, even though mercury emissions have decreased in the United States, recent studies suggest that mercury continues to accumulate in Alaska due to atmospheric transport of Asian coal burning emissions. Additionally, parks within the Southeast Alaska Inventory and Monitoring Network must consider regionally distinct drivers of pollution such as spawning salmon populations transferring marine-derived contaminants to freshwater, catastrophic oil spills from marine vessels, release of contaminants previously locked in glacial ice, and periodic air temperature inversions trapping cruise ship emissions in low-lying areas. Recognizing these potential threats to park ecosystems, the twelve priority monitoring programs (Vital Signs) identified by our network include airborne, marine, and freshwater contaminants. Until last year, these three Vital Signs were mainly viewed as separate efforts requiring independent protocols. But, we now believe the three should be combined into a single monitoring approach to highlight how these efforts complement one another. This integration is intuitive in principle but challenging in reality. This poster illustrates our process for creating complementary objectives for three separate contaminants monitoring programs and our proposed approach for data collection. We hope to provide other parks and networks with ideas for developing contaminants monitoring objectives and promote discussion for identifying common contaminant monitoring needs across the Alaska region.